Johnson & Johnson hides baby powder’s link to cancer, suit says

From Westlaw Journal Pharmaceutical  Johnson & Johnson has been named in a California woman’s proposed statewide class-action suit for allegedly failing to warn consumers that its classic baby powder is a likely cause of ovarian cancer.

Mona Estrada says the company has touted Johnson’s Baby Powder as “safe, gentle and mild” but has known for decades that it poses a high risk of ovarian cancer among women who use it on their genitals.

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The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, alleges consumer protection violations and breach of warranty.

Johnson’s Baby Powder is made of talc, an inorganic material mined from the earth as hydrous magnesium silicate, then processed and combined with fragrance, according to the complaint.

Estrada alleges that 21 clinical studies since 1982, including ones sponsored separately by the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute, have shown that ovarian cancer rates can be double to triple among women who use talc in their genital areas over those who do not.

The suit says J&J has long marketed Johnson’s Baby Powder to women as a way to “maintain freshness and cleanliness,” encouraging them to dust with it daily to mask odors.

The complaint does not delineate a specific class period but says the company has known that research dating to 1961 has shown that particles of talc, similar in composition to asbestos, “can translocate from the exterior genital area to the ovaries of women.”

The suit cites data from 1971 that show that researchers had found talc particles deeply imbedded in 10 of 13 tested ovarian tumors, 12 of 21 cervical tumors and five of 12 ovaries taken from women with breast cancer.

The complaint says that in 1996, condom makers stopped dusting condoms with talc because of ovarian cancer concerns.  In 2006, Canada’s government classified talc as a “very toxic” and “cancer causing” substance, the same classification as asbestos, according to the suit.

Estrada says there was no reaction from J&J when, in 1994, the Cancer Prevention Coalition asked that it pull its baby powder from the market, citing the availability of alternate products like corn starch.  The CPC suggested that, in the alternative, J&J should at least revise product warning labels to include a notice about baby powder’s ovarian cancer risk, the suit says.

J&J did neither, the complaint says, and still markets its baby powder as safe, effective and adequately tested when, in fact, it is “unsafe and not merchantable.”

(Westlaw users: click here to read the complaint).

Estrada asserts state law causes of action for negligent misrepresentation, breach of implied warranty, and violation of the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 1750.

The suit also includes a claim under California’s unfair-competition law, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200, based on J&J’s alleged public “omissions and nondisclosures.”

Estrada et al. v. Johnson & Johnson et al., No. 2:14-cv-1051-TLN-KJN, complaint filed (E.D. Cal., Sacramento Apr. 28, 2014).